Journalists should examine themselves

Guest Column by Tammy Beese

I agree with some of the points made by Darrell Hookey in his column last week, “It’s worth the paper it’s written on,” on the troubling state of journalism today. Media business owners and the public do need to take some responsibility.

But wouldn’t you say the journalist must also take some responsibility here?

A successful newspaper is largely due to a fantastic editorial team, so one would think a floundering newspaper was not well served by its journalists who dumb down their stories because it is easier.

I don’t think it is fair to say the public “asked” for the news to be dumbed down.

Many newspapers claim the Internet has hurt sales, but the Internet is not dumbed down. It can be as complex as the public wants it to be.

I think one source of newspapers’ troubles is short cuts. Skipping the fact-checking process and multiple interviews to present just one side of an argument is just so much easier.

Journalists are pandering to the easiest of human emotions, anger and fear to inspire readers to take action fast and hard. Complaint letters to the editor are largely received as badges of honour.

We are a poorer society when we do not see the other side. Inspiring thought doesn’t come from only dwelling on the negative. I think society is begging for some common sense reporting and they are educated enough to know when they are getting it.

The reporter has the opportunity to be more moral than its fellow citizens, even though they may have been guilty of some of the warts they report on. Newsrooms have the protection they desire: a freedom of speech flag to wrap themselves in, a divisive line between advertising and newsroom and an ability to let their boss know, “Hey, I’m looking after our readers’ interest and not yours”.

We are told if the public doesn’t like the performance of the editor, then choose to not buy the newspaper. How unfair is that? Not buying a newspaper disconnects us from the community. Don’t read it or take what they are giving ya and decipher it as best as you can. I don’t like those choices.

Just because you can scream at the top of the mountain anything you want, shouldn’t it be an honour used for something truly important? As Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If care is taken to tell real, relevant stories, perhaps the public would be receptive and will once again believe what they read.

So, you see, I don’t believe it is the poor journalist caught up in the middle of public apathy and the business need for the ol’ mighty dollar. If the journalist did the job they claim they can do, then the paper would do well because of its content, even if local content is just 40 per cent of the paper due to wire service stories, the words of the local journalist would still stand out.

I don’t think the issue is the journalist isn’t be heard but rather the opposite. Bottom line: readers make the business profitable. Solid journalism attracts readers with relevant, genuine content and treats the reader like a decision maker and not the follower.

Not all newspapers are suffering out there. Some small-town papers put out stellar information packages. However, free alternative newspapers are seen as the enemy, not permitted into newspaper associations. This robs these associations of the opportunity to learn how to approach business differently.

Alternative newspapers do deal with the hard issues and have captured the under-35 market even though the Internet is available.

So perhaps there are options out there and the public is finding them. I think we are witnessing an industry evolve and we, the public, will get what we want.

What’s Up Yukon’s Chaos Co-ordinator

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